By Storyteller Gerry Fierst
Growing up in New York City, Gerry never understood that Jews were such a small percentage of the world’s population. In his neighborhood, one could go for blocks and blocks and never meet anyone who wasn’t Jewish. But when Gerry went to visit cousins who had retired to Albuquerque, he discovered that “we all look alike when we are the other.”
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- Did you grow up in a neighborhood of people who were very similar to you? What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in homogenous communities?
- Why did the police officer not see that Gerry and his cousin looked very different from each other? How is it that we can look but not really see a person?
- A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson
- Anti-Semitism in America by Harold E. Quinley and Charles Y. Glock
- Crossing Cultures
- European American/Whites
- Jewish Americans/Jews
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
I think of myself as an American. But every so often, I discover that I’m still the “other.” And I’m always shocked by that discovery.
I was visiting with my cousins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d worked in the local school, and I got home mid-afternoon to find that my cousins had gone out, and locked the door. Well, I knew where the key to the side door was hidden. So, I went, and I got it, and I opened it up, and there was a chain on the door. I looked around. I found a wire hanger in the trash. I straightened it out. I was so smart. I reached in, and I jimmied the chain, and opened the door. I had broken in. I went, and I changed out of my business suit. And I went, and I got iced tea.
And I sat down in the kitchen, cooling off from the desert heat when I saw a police cap moving across the high window over the kitchen sink. The neighbors had called the police. They’d seen me breaking in. I got up. I went to the front door even before the policeman rang the bell. I opened the door, and he jumped three feet.
“You live here?”
I tried to reassure him. “Uh, no, it’s, it’s my cousins’ house. I’m just visiting.”
“You got I.D.”
“Yeah, sure. But I took off my clothes. I left my pants in the bedroom and I’ll go get my wallet.”
“Well, I’ll follow you,” he said. And so, he walked in behind me, and down the hall, where the family pictures were up on the wall.
“Hey, is that you?”
He pointed at the 13-year-old cousin, who was having his bar mitzvah. Red hair, long face, hooked nose, prayer shawl, kippah.
“No,” I said. “That’s my cousin.”
He looked at my face. He looked at my cousin’s face.
“You look just like him. Hey, you don’t need I.D. You’re Okay.”
And the officer turned and left the house. And I knew, that to him, we all look alike. We all look like the